Paul Klee’s “Efflorescence” & Otherness: Opening A Conversation

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Paul Klee, Efflorescence (1937)

When I look at this piece of art, I immediately relate it to others (artist: Basquiat, author: Scott McCloud) – outside of myself, without any conscious effort to do so. Although I am creating meaning from my personal experiences and knowledge, all of that is in reference to other works, ideas, and images I have had exposure to (see Irvine quote below). After reading the works of Saussure, Pierce, Bakhtin, Irvine, and Crow I learned that:

Meaning is created as a dialogue and is an activity to engage with and contribute to (it is continuous and not fixed). In art, like language, signs and symbols are meant to represent something or to express something. “The transfer of meaning from author to reader is not a one-way process, but a process of creative exchange” (Crow, 7). Efflorescence has childlike visual elements that remind me of the way I used to approach art in my youth. In professor Macovski’s New Media and Texts Across Culture class, we discuss how important identity and representation are integral to visual media. The extent to which we relate to someone or something, plays a large role in our relationship to that object and the meaning we derive from it. Author Scott McCloud states that as children we are able to relate to cartoon characters because they are empty shells (abstract faces) that allow us to become the character and travel into another realm. Because of the simplicity in Efflorescence, my imagination was a big part of how I experienced the work. I became involved in the work (a contributor), which allowed me to create meaning that is my own, or rather experience meaning myself. This would prompt me to further ask: was Klee a part of a conversation that was more open-minded than previous art? Was this a step in the direction of interactive art, and a step towards how people at the time constructed meaning? What is the artist/observer relationship, does the artist see himself as one with the observer? What was going on that may have influenced a return to childlike imagination and freedom from realistic work (modern art)? Did Klee understand that meaning is a conversation therefore intending to create space for infinite interpretation?

Supporting Quotes:

“An individual person’s meanings, cognition, and expression require and presuppose a community of others: others’ expressions are necessary as structured “inputs” that initiate and perpetuate participation as an intersubject with other members of a cultural community.” (Irvine, 22)

“Everything expressed in social situations and in larger cultural contexts is fundamentally grounded in otherness—others’ words and others as receivers of, and responders to, anything expressed. Anyone’s expression in speech and written genres is always inhabited by the words of others, other voices and other contexts in time or place, and others different in identity from one’s own” – ( Irvine, 21)

“When we abstract an image through cartooning, we’re not so much eliminating details as we are focusing on specific details. By stripping down an image to its essential “meaning” an artist can amplify that meaning in a way realistic art can’t” – (McCloud, 30)

“In emphasizing concepts of objects over their physical appearance, much has to be omitted.” – (McCloud, 41)

Applying these concepts to Efflorescence, these are further questions I would like to pose in order to discover new meanings:

Does one need to engage with ‘others’ to understand art? What are the most prevalent others that is the process of choosing certain ones over others?

Klee’s choice of abstraction is trying to convey what concepts?

What conversation is happening here? What was the cultural context during 1937? What other artists was he inspired by and conversing with?

What is omitted in this work? Space is used to separate all lines, absence of connected lines is a choice. What is this meant to represent?

According to Saussure value comes from the signs around it, so where is he assigning value in this piece? What is he choosing to display in his use of and non-use of coloring?

How is the title Efflorescence meant to anchor the reader? The words Essence & Efflorescence refer to ideas/concepts/feelings/emotions to further draw you in and create a framework to build on that is broad and inviting conversation

Why and how does the use of shapes, colors, lines work together to create a mood?

Who is this work addressing? To what audience was this work meant to be seen by and how may that have influenced the choice of signs and symbols?

How do I identify with this work? What ‘others’ do I include in my immediate interpretation of this piece?

Key terms: Perspective, Identity, Otherness, Addressivity/Answerability, Intersubject, Artist/Observer Relationship


Crow, David. Visible Signs: An Introduction to Semiotics in the Visual Arts. Lausanne; London: AVA Academia; Thames & Hudson, 2010.

Irvine, Martin. “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A Model for Generative Combinatoriality.”In The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, ed. Eduardo Navas, et al. (New York: Routledge, 2014), 15-42.

Martin Irvine, Introduction to Visual Semiotics

Irvine, “Student’s Guide to Mikhail Bakhtin: Dialogue, Dialogism, and Intertextuality.

McCloud, Scott, and Mark Martin. Understanding Comics. New York, NY: William Morrow, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2017. Print.